Friday, October 20, 2017

Dogs Reading and Starlet Blues

Apparently we're in for some stormy weather this weekend. There's something with the provocative label of a "weather bomb" brewing out in the Atlantic, and Brian (as the storm has been named) is supposed to strike the southwestern UK on Saturday with high winds and rain. The warning area includes London, although when I look at my local weather forecast it says the rain chance is only 20 percent, so who knows. Contradictory information! I could stand a day of staying inside and reading, to be honest.

We librarians had our annual group picture taken. I didn't mention it this year, did I? Well, we always do a photo with some kind of theme -- remember a few years ago, when we had our tie-dyeing party and were photographed wearing the results?

This year, the theme included our pets!

Three of the four of us have dogs, and at some point last year someone came up with the bright idea of Tweeting (on the library's account) pictures of our dogs "reading," just to be silly. I swear I did not originate this idea, but I did go along with it. I took a picture of Olga lying rather disinterestedly next to a book (ironically a book I didn't like very much, "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes).

A few weeks ago, we decided to incorporate our pet pictures into our group photo. We had them printed at the school -- which gave the teacher in the robotics lab a chance to experiment with his new, large-scale printer -- and then we held them in front of us for the final image. (I'm just showing you me, and not the whole group, because I'm not sure my colleagues would want to be blogged!)

We were originally going to wear t-shirts with the pictures ironed onto the front of them, but we had technical problems with the iron-on materials and had to go to Plan B.

Anyway, the group photo is always a fun little team-building exercise.

On a completely unrelated subject, I forgot to tell you a story about my Jane Fonda outing with Dave on Sunday. We were sitting in the audience waiting for the show to start when a man and woman sat down behind us. The woman, who sounded American, proceeded to regale the man with tales of acting and her cancelled TV show -- "they say they only want shows with the potential to be as popular as 'Game of Thrones,'" she told him -- and her plans to stay in Europe most of the coming year filming something or other. I looked at Dave and whispered, "I am dying to turn around." Who could this person be?

I developed some theories, and then stood up to "remove my jacket" while discreetly stealing a glance. I am disappointed to say I had no idea who she was. She didn't look familiar at all. Kind of generic, actually. Twentysomething. Long, brown hair.

I sat back down and told Dave I didn't have a clue as to her identity.

"That's because it's all lies," he said -- rather caustically, I thought.

(Top photo: Yellow trees near a tennis court in West Wickham, London.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Autumn Garden

The garden is taking on autumnal hues these days. The loosestrife has lost all its bright purple flowers, and its tiny leaves have turned crimson and yellow.

The inulas are still towering over the other plants, but all their blossoms have dropped away and been replaced by bristly seedheads. (Well, not quite all -- I see one yellow flower out there still.) Their leaves are turning yellow and brown, too.

The teasels look entirely dead. We've left them up because supposedly birds like to feast on the seeds, but I haven't seen a single bird touch these spiny cones.

The cardoon is, likewise, entirely brown now. Did it really bloom at the end of October a couple of years ago?!

The nasturtiums are looking tired, but they're still cranking out flowers. The roses have a few last blossoms too, their pink, yellow and red softening the otherwise decrepit-looking flowerbed.

And the hydrangea flowers are beginning to blotch and fade, but still add a touch of color -- especially when paired with the plant's purpling leaves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

West Wickham to Hamsey Green

I walked my sixth segment of the LOOP yesterday -- which means I've done a quarter of the entire 150-mile path! Woo hoo! If I keep up my current pace I'll be finished in April or so.

Of course, who knows what winter and the holidays will bring. Not ideal walking circumstances. I may get slower.

Yesterday's walk took me ten miles through rolling hills and woodlands, past lots of horse farms and cow pastures. At one point I found myself walking through a pasture, right next to wary cows, which is never my favorite situation. But they didn't bother me -- just stared and stared.

The walk began near the 700-year-old Domesday oaks of West Wickham Common, which have been so pollarded they're barely visible beneath a mound of underbrush. I walked through neighborhoods and woodlands toward the Addington Hills, where there was said to be a hilltop terrace looking out over the city.

Along the way I encountered some parakeets in the trees...

...and a rather parakeet-colored tree marking signifying something or other.

Finally, I reached the terrace, and indeed the view was pretty impressive, although downtown was partly hidden by the highlands just east of Crystal Palace. You can see the Crystal Palace broadcasting tower on the left, the top of The Shard in the center, and the tops of the City buildings on the right. (I cleaned this photo up a bit -- the actual view was much hazier than this.)

I passed this bizarre, naturally sculpted tree trunk in the Bramley Bank Nature Reserve...

...and this certainly sculpted-by-human-hands horse (dog? dragon?) in Puplet Wood. Some of the places I passed had great British-sounding names, like Threehalfpenny Wood, Baker Boy Lane and Mossyhill Shaw.

Mossyhill Shaw is supposed to be a great place to see butterflies, but apparently not at this time of year. I did, however, spot some bizarrely Dalmatian-like leaves lying on the ground. I have no idea what causes this -- some kind of tree disease, I suppose? Maybe like Black Spot on roses.

This segment ended at a bus stop near some horse farms, and you'd think -- being seemingly out in the middle of nowhere -- it would be devoid of people. But no! The neighborhood school let out just as I was ending my trek, and I rode a public bus with approximately 500 uniformed teenagers until I got to the train station at Sanderstead, Croydon, where I caught the train home. This is where my experience working in a school came in handy -- the kids didn't faze me at all!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Weird Sun

The light was so strange yesterday afternoon. At broad midday, about 1 p.m., it seemed more like sunset -- the sun was orange, the land shadowy, the sky a cloudy, sickly yellow-gray. I said to Dave, "Is the world ending?!"

At times, it seemed really dark outside -- way too dark for early afternoon -- but there was no rain. When the sun did shine, it came in intermittent red-gold bursts.

Wabi, Sabi and Bobby were not amused. Wide-eyed with fright, in fact.

Apparently this had to do with Hurricane Ophelia, the weather oddity that swept up from Africa and dragged with it a lot of Saharan dust and particles from fires in the Iberian peninsula. All that debris in the air filtered out light from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving us basking in a red-yellow glow.

It was very creepy.

Earlier in the day, everything was normal enough. The tree crew came bright and early, just after 8 a.m., and took down the spindly holly and trimmed the rest of the shrubbery in the garden. There's a lot more light out there as a result, peculiar though it was in the afternoon, and hopefully our plants will get an added boost next season. (And hopefully we won some points from Mrs. Kravitz, our holly-hating neighbor.)

I was concerned about the tree guys stomping all over the flower beds and dragging branches across them, but they did a great job and nothing seems to have any permanent damage. We didn't solve all the tree problems -- there's also a walnut tree that's leaning toward the house and needs some trimming of its own at some point. But the landlord can handle that. I think we've already been quite generous to pay for what we have.

Dave and I have gone on a Jane Fonda movie kick (well, to be completely honest, I have, and I'm dragging a grumbling Dave along with me). Last night we watched "On Golden Pond," which reminded me that I had a huge crush on Doug McKeon back when we were both 14-year-olds, and tonight we're going to tackle "Barefoot in the Park." I have a need to show Dave these movies, even though he's not particularly a movie fan and doesn't particularly want to see them. Is that selfishness on my part? Or am I right to want to share with him meaningful artifacts of my life? I can't decide.

Monday, October 16, 2017

More Olga Action Cam, and Jane Fonda

Here's Olga's second outing with her Action Cam -- this time to Hampstead Heath, where she chased her tennis ball, went for a swim and hunted squirrels. Woo hoo!

Making and editing that video was only part of yesterday's busy day. Last night Dave and I went to see "An Evening with Jane Fonda" at the Savoy Theatre. TV host Graham Norton and Jane (who turns 80 on December 21, following my mother by about six months) sat together on the stage and chatted for a while, and then took questions from the audience -- and it was a terrific evening.

As I've written before (back when I saw her on Broadway in 2009) I've been an admirer of Jane Fonda since the '70s. I read her memoirs when they came out about ten years ago, and some of what she talked about last night she'd also discussed in the book. (She told several Katharine Hepburn stories, for example, mimicking Hepburn's distinctive quavery voice.)

She said several times that she believes she is in a continual process of "giving birth to herself," discovering her truths and readdressing what went before. "My life is my art," she said at one point, and I like that idea -- that by living you are creating, and constantly changing and evolving as well.

Of course she discussed the movies she'd made -- "Klute" and "On Golden Pond" and "Coming Home," about which she intimately described the filming of the famous sex scene. But she really came alive when she talked about politics -- about how part of the blame for Trump falls squarely on the neo-liberalism of the Democratic party, which has abandoned the working classes. Hillary Clinton didn't even visit several of the traditionally democratic working class states that she ultimately lost, Fonda pointed out. She said she liked Clinton and supported her, but blamed that turn away from the party's roots for its losses (and the gains of Trump and the Tea Party, which stepped into the gap).

Many working class people, she said, have lost crucial elements of their own identities -- the union jobs, the sense of belonging that those organizational ties brought, the feeling of being part of something greater than themselves. That's why the NRA has become so powerful, she said -- it has offered those people a place in a greater vision, a greater whole.

She also took a question from a woman who is Vietnamese, and who -- it turned out -- met Fonda and was photographed with her as a child during Fonda's anti-war visit to Hanoi in the early 1970s. (That visit still causes a lot of grumbling and eye-rolling among conservatives, including Dave's dad, but Fonda remains proud of it. Her mistake, she said, was being photographed atop an anti-aircraft gun, which wasn't loaded or being used at the time, but sent a false message that she was essentially gunning for her own countrymen.) Fonda and the woman had a bit of a moment remembering the circumstances of their meeting, and Fonda told the woman to visit her backstage after the show.

It was a fascinating evening! And during all this, Olga stayed home and slept off her adventures on the Heath, no doubt dreaming of squirrels.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Purging the Plastic, and a Dirty Coin

Well, now I know I'm crazy. It's 6:05 a.m. and I've just been cleaning out the kitchen cabinet where we store all our leftover containers. I just couldn't stand it anymore! We save containers from take-away food delivery, because they're usually really solid plastic and they can be reused. But we must have had about 500 of them! (OK, I'm exaggerating -- more like 35, and for some reason way more lids than bodies.) Some of those things I know we moved from Notting Hill 3 1/2 years ago.

I put all but ten of them in the recycling bin. But now I'm thinking I might put them in a bag and stick them up in one of our "forgotten" high-up hallway cabinets, with the inflatable bed and the cheese board and the crepe pan and the fondue set that we still haven't used. I just can't stand to throw away that much plastic.

What prompted this so early in the morning was the simple task of putting away the dishes from the dishwasher, which is usually the first thing I do when I get up. I opened that cabinet, came face-to-face with that wall of plastic and thought, "Uh-uh. This has to stop now."

I Skyped with my mom yesterday, for the first time in ages. I haven't been able to reach her since before Hurricane Irma -- she went into a taciturn mode where, if she responded to my e-mails at all, it was with a handful of words or a single ambiguous sentence. And she forgot our previously scheduled Skype call. I was getting concerned, but my brother assured me she was fine, and sure enough she is. She says the schedule at the retirement center where she lives keeps her busy. Which is good.

Anyway, I heard about her evacuation to that Bible College in Georgia and her trip to a lighthouse and maritime museum in St. Augustine. The side of her face has a dramatic bruise because she fell while walking with some friends to a diner near her apartment, but other than the bruising, fortunately, she was OK.

Did I mention that I took my metal detector up to West End Green last weekend? I thought I'd try it in a public place -- somewhere other than our garden, where, as you may remember, my finds weren't all that stellar. I didn't want to dig on the green -- after all, it is a park -- but I wanted to take readings and see what the detector picked up. Well, I can see this detecting is going to be a challenge. There's so much metal junk in that park that it beeped every two inches! There's no way I could reasonably discern a coin from a bottle cap or a pull tab. I guess I need to practice in a less rubbish-congested space.

I thought I might find a coin or something, just on the surface of the soil. But no. And then, walking Olga yesterday, I found a 2p coin (above) lying in the dirt -- using only my eyes. So my record is actually better without the detector than with it!

Tomorrow Dave and I have a tree crew coming to take down that spindly holly tree in our garden and do some trimming. I'm seriously thinking of leaving so I don't have to watch. I think it will stress me out, having those guys dragging branches through the garden and stepping on our plants. It might be better to come back later, when the damage has been done.

(Photo: Hampstead Heath, on Oct. 1.)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Visitor Parking

On our walks this week, Olga and I have passed this van, a vintage Renault Trafic converted into a camper of sorts. It's got character, doesn't it? Like the French equivalent of an old VW bus.

It's also covered with jaunty, but very faded, stickers. These must be a record of the places it's been -- in this case, Euro-Disney, I'm guessing?

This poor guy is crawling and swinging all around the margins...

...while Marilyn, feeling blue, looks on with a sultry expression.

Don't most people talk to their pets? I certainly do.

You can just see a hint of the missing red pigments in this cluster of stickers.  It's weird how the reds and yellows have vanished so thoroughly from all of them. I wouldn't have thought our weak European sun capable of such fading!

I think whoever drives this van must be just passing through, as it's not a normal fixture in our neighborhood. I hope they pick up a few new stickers while they're here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

No More Mystery Egg

Remember that mysterious hard-boiled egg that I found on the couch in the library? Well, I remembered to bring it home yesterday afternoon.

(It was still in its shell, by the way.)

I peeled the egg and we called Olga into the garden for her treat. To the best of my knowledge she's never eaten a whole egg before, but she knew right away it was something she wanted.

She gingerly took it in her mouth, put it on the ground, put it back in her mouth, put it on the ground again. It took her a little while to figure out how to eat it.

But once she started, there was no stopping her!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Mystery Egg

Here's another shot of the poppies I found growing in a field down in Bromley on Sunday. A last gasp of summer!

After yesterday's post about the new pound coins, some of you asked for a picture of the new design. Wouldn't you know I don't have a single pound here at home to photograph? I was too efficient in spending them, apparently. Here's a picture and some more detailed information on the Royal Mint web site.

Oh, and I completely agree with those of you who suggested doing away with pennies. Pennies are the most useless coins ever, both in the states and in the UK. Here, to make matters worse, we have both pennies and two-pence coins! I'd get rid of both of them. We should just round everything to the nearest five cents (or pence).

I am having such a quiet week at work I barely know what to do with myself. I spent more time weeding shelves yesterday, and I'm finding a fair number of books of questionable value. A 2000 book on the controversy surrounding physician-assisted suicide, for example, that has never been checked out. Not only is it apparently not useful to our students, it's 17 years old -- and surely out of date by now. I think any student doing a project on that subject would research it primarily on the web, where the information is more current.

Yesterday I found a hard-boiled egg sitting on the couch in the silent area. Very peculiar -- considering we don't allow food in the library. I'm sure some kid brought it from the cafeteria and it seemed cold and fairly fresh, so I put it in the office fridge to bring home to Olga. But then I forgot it, so she'll have to wait until tonight for her treat!

Oh, and I finally made reservations for our trip to Cambridge over Thanksgiving. We found a hotel with some character just a bit out of town, so Olga has grassy areas for running and playing. It's good to have a plan!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Coins of the Realm

The UK is in the process of replacing its ubiquitous £1 coins. Apparently the old ones were ridiculously easy to counterfeit, and there were reports that many of the coins in circulation weren't genuine. So the Royal Mint devised new coins, of two different-colored metals, with a more geometric 12-sided shape and other security features that supposedly make it the most secure coin in the world.

This has been going on for some time, and the new coins have gradually been seeping into our pocket change. I mentioned back in April getting my first one while visiting Newcastle.

Well, now we're coming down to the wire. The old "round pound," which has been in circulation since 1983 with a variety of designs, will no longer be legal tender after Oct. 15. So those of us with round pounds are supposed to get out there and spend or donate them -- after this weekend, they can legally be refused by shopkeepers.

Whether shops and banks will really be that strict, I'm not sure. But I'm not taking any chances. I got rid of all our round pounds, and it occurred to me yesterday that the library cash box at work (which we keep to take money for lost books and that kind of thing) was full of round pounds.

Fortunately, I had another problem to solve yesterday that required a small amount of cash. Someone returned to our library a book recently checked out from a branch of the San Francisco public library system! Why they did this, I'm not sure, but people can be surprisingly clueless about library books. (We get Westminster library's books all the time, and I simply take them to the local branch and drop them in the book return.)

The San Francisco book obviously posed a greater challenge. But I stuck it in a padded envelope, looked up the address of the library branch in question, and took it to the post office. For eight of our old pound coins, I was able to send it back home to the other side of the planet!

I traded in the remaining old pounds at the bank, and now the library also won't be stuck with any "round pounds" after this weekend. I'll miss the old coins, which made a unique "clacking" sound owing to their metallic composition. But the new ones are shinier and nicer-looking -- I'll give them that.

(Photo: An ice cream truck on Sunday at a park in Bromley.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gorillas and Geese

I'm still feeling a bit hungover from the events of last week. A bit unsteady on my feet, like I'm recovering from an illness. Why did that Las Vegas shooting affect me so deeply? Was it the randomness of the crime, or the inexplicable behavior of the shooter? The lack of an apparent motive? The sheer incomprehensibility of it all? I don't know. It sent me into a funk for days.

I have been fascinated by the conversations about guns that have followed, though. I'm not going to rehash the issue here any more, but it's interesting how emotional people get. Gun control is like abortion -- an issue that one side and the other see with entirely different eyes, based on their beliefs and experiences.

I just wish I could feel a bit more back in my routine.

It's not helping that this week, all the high school students are on school trips, so there's a lot less to do in the library. The middle-schoolers are still around, but they're just a fraction of our "customer base." So I've been working on weeding and straightening shelves.

I took the photo above in Petts Wood before hitting the trail on Sunday morning. Yes, those appear to be geese in the shop window. Here's a close-up:

I'm not sure what geese have to do with luggage sales, but I guess they add a decorative element. Maybe, like those old American Tourister commercials that challenged a gorilla to destroy a suitcase, this is meant to infer that these bags are tough enough to survive an onslaught of....barnyard fowl?

I stopped at Homebase on the way home last night for another flowerpot to house another rescued houseplant that I picked up while walking Olga. I feel like we are forever buying flowerpots. It's getting a little ridiculous.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Petts Wood to West Wickham Common

I walked another leg of the London LOOP yesterday -- the nine miles from Petts Wood to West Wickham Common. This led me through a series of forests, parks and farm fields in the far South London borough of Bromley, and past this very peculiar hedge in the village of Farnborough.

It was a very autumnal walk -- lots of pyracanthas with bright orange and red berries, and a pile of discarded windfall apples from someone's orchard. Charles Darwin lived in a town near the walking route, but I didn't visit his house.

This is St. Giles the Abbott church in Farnborough. A group of people were gathered at the entrance to the church as I passed, dressed in their Sunday best. I felt a bit conspicuous in my ratty sweatshirt! The church was rebuilt in flint and brick, in the local style, after a storm damaged it in 1639.

I found some persistent summer poppies growing in this field, surrounded by rolling farmland and horse pastures.

Here's another brick and flint structure, a house not far from Darwin's village of Downe.

Overlooking this part of the countryside from a high knoll is Holwood House. The present structure dates from the 1820s and is still a private home.

I stopped for lunch in the village of Keston -- cottage pie from a local cafe. And finally, near the end of my walk, I had this view of the rooftops of West Wickham, seen from a high point on the common.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Olga Action Cam!

I finally had a chance to make a video with Olga's new GoPro camera and harness. She wears it well, doesn't she? She doesn't have the humiliated look of some dogs forced to don alien gear, like Halloween costumes or neck cones.

Anyway, I walked her to Fortune Green yesterday, strapped the camera to her back and played Kong with her, and then walked her through the cemetery. I got about half an hour of footage, and I came home and spent about three hours learning enough about iMovie to edit it into a five-minute video:

And here's the crazy end result! It's a bit chaotic at the beginning, when she's running, but I added slo-mo to the second run so it wouldn't make us all feel ill. I had fun putting this together and hope it's fun for you to watch!

Incidentally, it's funny how people react to the camera. One woman, a jogger, seemed very amused; another wanted to know whether I was filming to prove my dog "didn't do it." (I guess "it" means anything bad!)

Saturday, October 7, 2017


I hope I didn't already blog these pictures. Sometimes it can be hard to remember! This is Queen's Gate Place Mews, in Kensington. I like the ornate gate over the street, which includes little monster faces hidden in the ornate vegetation around the medallion at the top:

I don't know about you, but I have found this to be a very trying week. The news was about as depressing as possible, and the resulting Facebook conversations were taxing. Monsters in the foliage, indeed.

I've also had lots of little niggling chores to handle, from scheduling (and then cancelling, as I plan to) the installation of our energy smart meters to planning our Thanksgiving break (Cambridge, we think).

The good news is, I did get Olga's GoPro camera working (woo hoo!) and I even made a video yesterday, of her running around the back garden. But Dave doesn't want me to post it because he was standing in the background in his pajamas. So I'll make another one today, when we're all properly clothed!

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Debate

My expenses got paid! Woo hoo!

Meanwhile, on Facebook, I have waded into the gun control debate. Why, why, WHY did I do this? A friend from my childhood posted a pro-gun manifesto (the essence of her argument: blame people, not guns, which are merely inanimate objects not harmful by themselves). I responded that yes, we should hold shooters responsible -- and we do, when we can -- but there's also nothing wrong with limiting the available tools for people who want to do harm. After all, our society regulates inanimate objects all the time, and here in the UK, gun control has made a difference. Well, she responded, and the tone has been congenial enough, but I think I now have to extract myself from this conversation because -- let's face it -- we're not going to change each others' minds.

I feel like pro-gun people employ so many smoke-and-mirrors arguments ("Why don't we outlaw CARS, which cause so many more fatalities than guns?! Why don't we outlaw AIRPLANES?!") that it's hard to even focus on the issue. Surely they can see how a car is different from a gun.

It's all so exhausting.

I got a call from our power company yesterday wanting to install smart meters on our gas and electricity lines. They can only do it on weekdays (!) beginning in November. So I agreed to have them come over Thanksgiving morning, which is the only time we'll be off work -- but now I'm annoyed with myself because we wanted to take a trip somewhere that weekend. I may call them back and cancel or reschedule.

Meanwhile, I got another data card for the Olga-cam (the Go-Pro camera Dave got Olga for my birthday) but it still doesn't work. The camera doesn't seem to see the card, even after I've formatted it. It doesn't seem to be clicking into the slot correctly. (Yes, I tried it multiple ways!) Time to contact customer service!

(Photo: Mushrooms on a log in Petts Wood, south London.)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More iPhone Photos

Because I have pretty much nothing to say today, how about another round of iPhone photos?

First, some bags of construction sand, looking like big marshmallows on the street. It's interesting how in Britain, sand or gravel for building projects is delivered by the bagful, at least in the city. I can't remember how that worked in New York, but I don't remember seeing big bags like this.

I came across this vine while walking home one day about two weeks ago. I had no idea what it was, with those greenish flowers. Turns out it's called a cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens).

I was out walking Olga one morning when we were menaced by this concrete guard dog. Not very effective, it seems to me.

Some of you correctly identified the vine in my photo two days ago as Virginia Creeper. There's quite a bit of it in London, where it's appreciated for its brilliant fall color. Here's some more, even farther along in its seasonal color change.

(When I posted this photo on Facebook, Dave wrote "Virginia Creeper" in the comments. Another friend replied, "How dare you! Her name is Olga.")

Remember the big 2001 monolith on Finchley Road? Well, it's been unveiled, and I still don't entirely understand what it is. Apparently you can charge your phone here, make free calls and use it as a WiFi point, among other things. BT says it's the new version of the phone booth.

A lost mermaid, found on a bench in West Hampstead.

Don't we all appreciate a garbage bag with a sense of humor?

And finally, Olga blending in with some street wildlife in front of a florist's shop in West Hampstead. (The same florist with the saggy shelves.)